Promitif by Max Factor perfume advert 1960s

Nothing can transport you back in time like a fragrance. They say that your sense of smell is the most powerful and evocative sense, and it’s true: Chanel No. 5 will forever remind me of my mum, Armani pour Homme is my husband, and Brut – well that reminds me of staying out late as a teenager…

“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.” – Coco Chanel

This may have been a dramatic overstatement, but if I was in the business of selling perfume I would probably come up with some outrageous quotes about how indispensable it is too! And it worked, Chanel No. 5 is one of the most popular fragrances of all time, a bottle of it is sold every 30 seconds.

Coco Chanel also stated that women should wear perfume wherever they hoped to be kissed. Wise words indeed – please note that this does not mean ‘layered’ in perfume as perfume counter girls will advise you. We’ve all got into a lift with someone who smells overwhelmingly (and gaggingly) of some cloying scent, and you don’t want to be THAT person.  No one should be able to smell your perfume unless they’re that little bit closer than is polite, then it should be something delicious and intoxicating.

Whilst researching which perfumes were popular over the decades I was surprised how many of these I’ve actually owned. Over the years I’ve tried Blue Grass, Miss Dior, Diorissimo, Chanel No. 19, Anais Anais and L’eur du Temps before I finally settled on Chanel No. 5. Sadly I chose one of the most expensive perfumes on the market, but I guess there’s a good reason why it’s been a bestseller since it was launched in 1921!

It’s surprising how many of these perfumes are still best sellers even now, but I suppose if the perfumes were popular then why would they go out of fashion?

Here are the most popular perfumes from the 1920s – 1970s. Have I missed any out? And do you wear any of these?

Popular Perfumes in the 1920s

  • Chanel No. 5 was launched in 1921 and was an immediate Shalimar by Guerlain Perfumesuccess, even though perfume was very much the preserve of the rich at this time. Famously worn by Marilyn Monroe, the square bottle design is rumoured to have been inspired by the design of a whiskey decanter, and has even been immortalised as pop-art by Andy Warhol.
  • Guerlain’s Shalimar launched first in 1925. It is one of the most popular fragrances of all time and was supposedly inspired by Mumtaz Mahal, the women for whom the Taj Mahal was built. The perfume was named after the Gardens of Shalimar in Lahore, Pakistan, which were also built for her.

Popular Perfumes in the 1930s

  • Tabu by DanaFragrances which were popular in the 1930s included Tabu by Dana (a sexy evening perfume), which was launched in 1932 and Je Reviens by House of Worth, both of which remain available today.
  • In 1934 Elizabeth Arden developed Blue Grass (we’ve all been given that at some point).
  • Perhaps the most notable perfume of the 1930s was Joy by Jean Patou which was voted Scent of the 20th Century at the Fragrance Foundation FiFi awards 2000. It was created in 1929 (the year of the Wall Street Crash) and even though it was marketed as ‘the world’s most expensive perfume’ it was a huge hit. It is considered to be one of the greatest floral fragrances of all time.

Popular Perfumes in the 1940s

  • L'Air du Temps by Nina RicciAfter the war lighter and fresher perfumes became more popular, one of which was the still-popular Miss Dior by Christian Dior in 1947
  • L’eur du Temps by Nina Ricci was released in 1948. I remember having a bottle of this flowery perfume on my dressing table as a teenager and I adored the pretty glass bottle with 2 kissing doves as it’s bottle stopper.

Popular Perfumes in the 1950s

  • Femme de Rochas was a rich, sultry perfume aimed at the femme fatale created in 1944.
  • Arpege by Lanvin is a floral romantic perfume which was created in 1927 but which became particularly popular during the 1950s.
  • Max Factor’s Hypnotique and Primitif (as advertised by Jean Patchett above) were popular and an affordable perfume for the masses compared to the fragrances by the big fashion houses.
  • Soir de Paris by Bourjois was a popular fragrance amongst teenagers during the 1950s. It was discontinued in 1969, but relaunched in 1992

Popular Perfumes in the 1960s

  • Oh! de London by TuvacheYSL Rive Gauche was a popular 1960s scent
  • Hubert de Givenchy created L’Interdit for Audrey Hepburn and she wore the perfume for many years before it was released to the public in 1957. She featured in the adverts for L’Interdit throughout the 1960s (although she looked rather glassy-eyed and fed-up in the ads if I’m honest).
  • Tuvache’s Oh! de London is a bright sparkling scent which perfectly captured the mood of the swinging sixties.
  • Guerlain introduced the heady oriental scent Chamade in 1969.

Popular Perfumes in the 1970s

  • Charlie by Revlon was marketed asDiorella by Christian Dior a perfume for the independent woman who has everything and was very popular.
  • Opium by Yves Saint Laurent was launched in 1977 and was a heady, rich oriental evening perfume.
  • Christian Dior released the classic perfume Diorella by 1972 which combines citrus and musky notes.
  • Anais Anais by Cacharel was launched in 1978 and was also an immediate hit.

Did (or do) you wear any of these fragrances? Have I missed any out which you remember being really popular? Let me know!

Top photo source and copyright: Used with kind permission from